A Romeoesque View of the Gospel

Maybe one of the greatest blessings I receive is that of perspective. One of my “perspectivators” is Romeo, my fifteen-year-old wonder kid who has truly lived it all, and lived to laugh about it.

When Jesus was born, the social and political scenario was tragic, and traumatic for many. He was born into the humblest of settings, and few had a clue what impact his life would truly have. These past few days at the Youth Ranch Home, we’ve been reading the first chapters of the Gospel of Luke, and this has led Romeo to have a ton of questions……actually….Romeo always has a ton of questions.

Romeo lives life to the fullest, especially now that for the first time in his life he is living in a real house, eating real food, in a stable situation. First time ever!! He has been accustomed to being constantly on guard on the streets, scolded by abusive drunk male relatives, abandoned, beaten, and constantly told he is not worthwhile. How does Romeo deal with this? He “self-corrects” and “auto-scolds” himself. This gets pretty funny.

“Mark, you should give me the cereal you won in the food basket. Romeo would like the cereal, and I’d hide the box in my room so nobody steals it from me. I’d heat up milk in a pan to eat with my cereal.” Then, he continues his monologue with the correcting. “No Romeo, you can’t have the cereal. The cereal is for Mark, so he can get a bigger belly…” Then he breaks into his habitual laugh, happy he’s cracked himself up. “Romeo is not worth a box of cereal….or milk”, then his laughter continues. These monologues continue all throughout the day.

I love Romeo! Sometimes, especially when he’s in a vehicle, Romeo talks NONSTOP! And I’ve learned that if I look at him and raise my eyebrows (thanks mom!), he will auto-correct. “Ok, time to shut up Romeo. You are talking too much Romeo. Nobody wants to hear your rambling, Romeo”. Then the laughter!

But with all of that trauma comes the reality. You know how most kids have some pretty strange fears? There are things that most children will be afraid of, but most of the time they are things that doubtfully will actually happen. That is not the case with Romeo. His fears are always present, and most for good reason. I mentioned we would spend Christmas Eve up on a hillside, watching the fireworks displays explode over our city at midnight. Romeo contemplated and then expressed his fear. “Would you leave me up there, abandoning me in the dark? I hope not, because the last time that happened I was really scared. When I was ten my brother and I were out, and a guy picked us up. He and some other men took us up a hill and tied us up, and then asked our family for a ransom. But my dad didn’t have much money, and he told the men he would not pay the ransom. They were going to kill us, but decided instead to just leave us tied up on the mountain, and we were finally able to escape the next day”.
How do you respond to that? I told him I was not going to kidnap him, tie him up, ask for a ransom, and then leave him tied to a tree in the night, abandoning him. He happily came along to see the fireworks.

“Do you think my brain is messed up because I didn’t get breast milk as a baby? (Romeo’s mom died during childbirth). Hans says the lack of breast milk messed my head up. He said drinking powdered milk as a baby killed my brain cells. No, Romeo! You are not brain damaged because you didn’t get to suckle.” Then the laugher at his own humor. “I’ll make up for it when I have a wife. When she’s pregnant I’ll drink her breast milk and get smarter”. Laugher!

Romeo wonders why Jesus mom didn’t die during childbirth. He wonders if Mary and Joseph had fresh eggs and cow milk in the stable. He asked if Joseph decided Mary was ugly, and he went out to find himself another woman. Was Joseph sober or drunk the night Jesus was born? Did Jesus ever have his own soccer ball? Did Mary ever abandon Jesus? What would have happened to the world if a mule in the stable accidentally kicked baby Jesus in the head?

“I know what Jesus felt like when those bad guys came to find him in the garden and drag him off to trial. The same thing happened to me”.

But then, I realize Romeo is capturing so much more about life, Jesus, and love. Two days ago he was reflecting on his life, and he said, “This is the first Christmas in two years I’ve not been in prison. It’s nice not to be in prison for Christmas. And I now know what Christmas means. I never really knew anything about Jesus before, and now I’m glad that I do.” Aha!! It’s working. Romeo is learning and growing and slowly learning to trust.

I think most of us need to reflect a little more about life, love, and Jesus. We need to be a little more Romeoesque in the way we read the Bible. We need to recognize our traumas, and how God has brought us through it all. We need to stop and reflect not only on what we’ve not received, but on the spiritual milk God is constantly trying to get us to consume. And we need to “auto-correct” when we get off track or talk too much instead of listening. We need to enjoy our life of liberty and freedom in Christ, and remember we were once prisoners to sin. And we need to trust Jesus more, especially when trusting him means getting over our fears of bad things that have happened in our past.

How We Teach Journeying With God To The YRH Boys



I want to share with you how we teach boys to trust God to lead them to family, and how a true “faith journey” is undertaken in real life, on real roads, with real risks. And how we live out our trust in Jesus, and live out Psalm 23, and how we take real steps and drive real miles with God as our guide. Let me explain.

One of the jobs that I must carry out is that of private investigator. Many young men we encounter have just enough information about a family member to leave them with what I will call “curiosity hives”. They will break out in these terribly itchy welts of curiosity that drives them mad, until we are able to dig around and discover the truth about family. Anyone who knows someone adopted knows exactly what I mean.

CURIOSITY HIVES:    I had been promising the Sasaki brothers, Moises (15) and Jesus (16), that I would take them to visit their mother and father in a village in the Northern Part of our department of Huehuetenango, Guatemala. They had never really lived with their adoptive parents. They knew parts of the story. They had lived in Mexico, their father was Japanese, their mother Guatemalan. They lived in an orphanage in Tijuana, Mexico. Their parents had lived in the US. They also knew their mother acted strange, and they had only seen her a few times during their lives. For Christmas, they asked that I take them to a far off village named San Miguel, to try to find their parents. “Curiosity hives” had broken out.

IMG_4979GOD, GUIDE OUR PATH: I mapped the roads I would take. I called the only two contacts I had for that region. I was actually fearful (thus the reason I asked my Facebook friends and prayer partners to pray). There were dozens of extreme dangers that we could encounter in this far-away place, where nobody ends up by accident. On Friday we took off in our Hyundai 4×4 SUV, a truck made for journeys to the end of the world. The dirt and muddy roads wind endlessly through dreadful mountain passes, most of the time only one lane, meaning passing large trucks can only be done in tiny stretches. God guided us and we kept stopping to ask people on the road the way to San Miguel, until we arrived. Once in town, they quickly recalled the way they had journeyed the last time they had visited their mother, miraculously finding her home.

GOD, LEAD US TO FRIENDLY NEIGHBORS: The moment we entered and she began to talk….or yell….or bicker with them, I knew what they meant by “strange behavior”. In about three minutes, I knew my education was going to pay off, and I was ready to make a blitz-diagnosis. Elena was between the age of 50 and 55 and manically schizophrenic. As soon as I had a chance to exit her home, I took it. She kept saying that a neighbor named Alejandro had tried to murder her, and had stolen all of her possessions, so I went to find this man. I found his son and smiled as I greeted him. I told him we were on a journey, and that I wanted to talk to them about Elena, and I knew she was crazy. “Boy do I know she’s crazy, because I’m a psychologist”, I exaggeratedly exclaimed! In a few minutes we were friends and he was chatting away. I explained that we were smart enough to know he was a friend and not an enemy, and ultimately the two days we were in town, Alejandro Jr. helped us find more family. That is how God works.

GOD, GRANT US DIVINE WISDOM:   I found their Japanese father, whom can no longer live with an aggressive manic wife. He has lived in this town for nearly ten years, but he speaks only Japanese, and interacts with no one. He has no friends, and won’t communicate with anyone in town. I told him I had brought his sons and he could not have cared less. He waved me off, and walked away. He never even looked at them. I quickly determined that it was of no use for them to stay in the house trying to communicate with their mother. She was ranting about how everyone was trying to murder her, steal from her, and take away her children. Her home was the closest to a “Hoarders” episode I’d ever encountered in Guatemala. So I decided to let Jesus know it was time to leave. I made up a fake text message from a friend of his, reentered the home, and told him he had a text message. He read my note which said, “Let’s bail and reorganize”. We were quickly able to do so. We left the village and went to another town to spend the night in a hotel. I explained what my diagnosis was. Both boys wanted to return the next day to see if they could find more family.


GOD, BLESS US IN WAYS WE DON’T EXPECT.:   We returned early to the village. But we could tell we were being stared down by many people. In the villages people are suspicious of strangers and we were easy targets. We headed for the village park, and about a block from the park I noticed two bright smiling faces. They were Pepsico salesmen, and both were huge fans of my radio and TV shows, now off the air a decade. They stopped us and started up a conversation. I spoke with one for a long time and found out about the village, where I could feed both boys who were starving, and about the surrounding region. The brothers spoke to the other man, who told them about how they could get legal information on their parents, and how properties were registered in that village. In half and hour, we had answered much of the list of questions we had formulated the night before. And these guys asked how Pepsico of Guatemala could, and further help the Youth Ranch Home.

GOD, LEAD US TO FAMILY.:   A man had walked past the house the day before. He was maybe in his seventies, and wore a nice hat and a big smile. Now I know he was probably an angel. (No, a real one!!!) He stopped and started up a conversation and I obliged, shook his hand, and spoke with him. He told me to come visit him the next day and he would like to talk to me. I agreed. Alejandro saw me speak to him and said his name was Mr. Francisco. He was one of Elena’s brothers, so I did want to talk with him again. The next morning we returned to find Mr. Francisco. Alejandro was glad to see me and meet the boys. He smiled and offered to take us personally to Mr. Francisco’s home. He dropped us off and returned to his business. However, it ends up, Mr. Francisco doesn’t even exist, or at least not anymore. The man I saw could only be described by family as the boy’s grandfather, a man who had passed away forty years earlier. But the family called Mr. Angel, a younger man, and he was Elena’s uncle. He quickly remembered the boys, and we began a conversation that led them to know more about their family and give them a contact in that village.

GOD, GIVE US THE ANSWERS THESE BOYS WANT:   Mr. Angel quickly spoke of the boy’s family. He told them that they were not real brothers. One was taken from a young indian woman who had become pregnant. She now lived in a far-away village. The other’s father was probably a man in town named Juan. He was going to check for us. The boys giggled as they discovered they may not really be brothers. Their sister was from another family as well. Their adoptive mother, Elena, could not have children, so people came by and “gave her children they could not take care of because they were too young or not married”. He smiled as he pointed out little characteristics in the boy’s faces that reminded him of their birth mother or father. We learned so much about these boys, and helped fill in so many blank spaces.

GOD, BLESS THESE BOYS.:   One of our concerns has been that the boys knew their mother had quite a bit of property, and a number of houses in town. The boys knew they had an inheritance, and in her raging, she said she wanted to give them what was theirs. So Angel explained how much property she had, and what it was valued at. These two boys could be very wealthy! The more we talked, the greater urgency we all felt to try to save these properties and have them transferred to the boys so that nobody will steal them from them. As we returned back towards our city, they sat in shock to know that God had truly cared for them, and that they could ultimately have a very nice inheritance to help them through school and beyond.

GOD, NOW WHAT?      But now we have more questions. We are not sure how we can help their aging parents. We don’t know how we can get their mother medications, and even if we had medications, how could we get her to take them. Should one of the three children try to go and live with her? Should we move legally to protect her land and houses so that she doesn’t lose them in her madness? Should we try to find her a facility in which to live, probably in Guatemala City? How do we help their family, while helping them to advance in school and life was well? Should we continue to seek out their birth parents, or just be glad that we know more?

GOD, GIVE US PEACE:   Both boys are processing the events of these past few days. And we are praying together that God would guide and help them to understand that HIS INCREDIBLE HAND WAS IN IT ALL.

That is how we teach our boys how to follow God’s lead, and allow Him to guide our paths to discover, learn, and adventure.